For my first meeting, no one showed for a while and when the first member appeared, I jumped to my feet, stuck out my hand and introduced myself. Others trickled in but it all felt very much like a first date, six strangers sitting at a table in a small room, in a nervous silence.
The first meeting usually has lots of ice and, as the facilitator, it’s your job to break it and I always leave the work off the table for that first gathering. It helps to expect things to start off small because the group will grow, as will the comradery, but these points will help.
- Introduce yourself and give them some background on who you are and what made you decide to start a group.
They’ll want to know what your plans are and, if this is something still being formulated, they’ll appreciate being involved in the process of deciding the group goals.
I don’t usually go around the circle but let anyone jump in and introduce themselves. Writers will naturally want to get straight into discussing their various works-in-progress but I try to limit this and just focus on the writer at this early stage.
- After introductions, I always open up the floor to discuss what everyone wants out of the group, even if it’s already clear what the goals of the group might be.
This is to let everyone voice their situation and their wants for the group and it’s good for the facilitator to hear it and to take note. Based on the goals of the group and the articulated wants/needs of the members, I then make some notes and use these notes to articulate as concisely as I can what the group is meeting to do and this allows everyone to come to a collective agreement on how the group is run. This will help inform the process around new members etc later on.
- Distribute a handout on how to give and receive feedback (I’ll cover that and provide the handout in a separate post) and let anyone ask questions around this process.
A lot about running a group is modelling the kind of behaviour that’s expected. This includes showing a high level of commitment to the group and your role in it and also relates to how feedback is given and how it’s received. Creating trust in the group is building an implicit code and it takes time but it’s amazing how much of the foundation gets built on that first night.
- In terms of logistics, I make sure everyone brings their diary and I go over the next meeting dates with them and confirm everyone’s availability.
Meeting structure can also be raised at this time. I usually go over how I like to run the meetings and reinforce the fact that I will be using a timer and let them know how much time everyone will get (if it’s a feedback/critiquing group) or how much time we will have collectively if we’re structuring the meetings differently.
- The final thing I cover is how members might like to communicate with each other between meetings.
Email is usually best but it’s important to get everyone’s permission before distributing email addresses. Encouraging contact outside of meeting times is a great way to build rapport. Depending on how far the meetings are from each other, members will also need a reminder email for upcoming meetings.